Musicians give their Twin Cities Jazz Festival picks

The Twin Cities Jazz Festival opens today with a broad array of music from national and regional musicians on old and new stages. Festival headliners include Grammy winners Branford Marsalis and Dianne Reeves and Melissa Aldana, winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition.

Musicians from Minnesota list them among their must-see shows, along with local favorites. Here are some top picks from Twin Cities artists. The musicians who chose them are listed first, in bold.

Percussionist Babatunde Lea performs at 7:15 Friday at the Sixth Street Stage

Babatunde Lea (MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson)

1. Anthony Cox — One of my favorite bass players and to say he’s very creative would be a massive understatement.  Always grooving and coming up with the unexpected and his group is “killin”!!!

2. Branford Marsalis — I always like to see and hear Branford because whenever he performs you are seeing and hearing the state of the art.  Been a fan of his since he was with his brother Wynton’s band back in the 80’s! 8:30 p.m. Friday, Mears Park Main Stage

3. Atlantis Quartet — Their compositions are always interesting, innovative and surprising.  I have played with most of the members and individually they are always at the top of their game and together they play world class music! 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Mears Park Main Stage

It’s impossible to leave out Dianne Reeves. Simply put, I love her artistry.  What she can do with a song is mesmerizing and transcendental!

Brian Courage performs with Courageous Endeavors at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Black Dog Café, 308 E. Prince Street

1. Red Planet — Dean Magraw is one of the true guitar wizards of the Twin Cities, and this is absolutely my favorite setting to hear him in. Chris and Jay each get a lot of space to explore different sounds, making what could be an everyday guitar trio into a much more captivating ensemble. It’s great to see Dean and this group getting the main stage spot that they deserve. 4 p.m. Friday, Mears Park Main Stage

2. Graydon Peterson Quartet — Exciting original music. Three words that should be the lifeblood of any major jazz festival that somehow get lost in the fray. This band is the real deal. Four fantastic players come together to perform some of the most interesting new music being written in this town. Singable melodies over complex, shifting grooves make for quite the cocktail. 10:30 p.m. Friday, Amsterdam Bar, 6 West Sixth Street (Stick around for the Phil Hey Quartet too!)

3. Melissa Aldana’s Crash Trio — Melissa has been getting a lot of press recently as the most recent winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Her group also features drummer Francisco Mela, who has made several visits to the Cities recently with Joe Lovano, amongst others. Anyone interested in a modern take on the chordless saxophone trio will definitely want to check this group out. 6 p.m. Saturday, Mears Park Main Stage

Cory Wong performs with Foreign Motion at 6 pm. Thursday at the Mears Park Main Stage

Foreign Motion: Pianist Kevin Gastonguay, drummer Petar Janjic, guitarist Cory Wong and bassist Yohannes Tona. (Photo by Chris Bartels)

This is the most exciting time of the year for jazz around town because we’re able to check out so much great music. There are so many amazing talents performing this year, but it’s actually kind of simple for me to pick my favorites because there are three performers that are hugely influential to me that are playing.

1. Mississippi, featuring Andrés Prado — Andres is such a powerhouse on the guitar and his writing is ridiculous. He lived in the Twin Cities for a short period of time, but is now back in Lima, Peru. I used to check out his band every time they played and they always blew me away. The group is a killer cast of local musicians as well. They all have a different style and background, but Andrés brings them together and there’s an explosion of amazingness that happens when they hit the stage together. 5 p.m. Friday, Sixth Street Stage

2. Red Planet, with Dean Magraw — Another amazing guitar player who has a unique approach and voice in jazz. I saw Dean when I was a kid and he opened my mind to hear and approach music in different ways. He does jazz, pop, folk, Celtic, everything. His musical depth and feel is one of a kind. Bassist Chris Bates and drummer Jay Epstein are also masters of playing in a guitar trio. 4 p.m. Friday, Mears Park Main Stage

3. Branford Marsalis — I’ve never seen him live, but I’ve heard him on tons of recordings. My favorite album of his is “I Heard You Twice The First Time.” Really looking forward to finally checking him out in concert! 8:30 p.m. Friday, Mears Park Main Stage

Pianist Chris Lomheim performs with the Chris Lomheim Trio (with bassist Gordon Johnson and drummer Jay Epstein) at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Studio Z, 275 Fourth Street E., Suite 200. He also performs at 10:30 p.m. Friday with the Illicit Sextet at the Hat Trick Lounge, 134 Fifth Street E.

1. Steve Kenny’s Group 47 — One of the most exciting new groups to hit the local jazz scene. Trumpeter and composer Steve Kenny commandeers this quarter of young talented improvisers, including one of the most exciting new up and coming piano talents in Will Kjeer. Don’t miss this one! And be sure to pick up a copy of their new album “Straight to Vinyl.” 11 p.m. Saturday, Black Dog Café, 308 E. Prince Street

2. Adam Meckler Orchestra — Adam is a gifted trumpeter and composer. Adam’s Big Band consists of some of the Twin Cities top young jazz musicians. The AMO has a new CD coming out very soon — “When the Clouds Look Like This.” 4 p.m. Saturday, Mears Park Main Stage

3. Graydon Peterson Quartet — Graydon is a first call bassist and prolific composer. This quartet plays mostly original compositions and these four musicians are highly skilled improvisers and performers. A must-see group. Be sure and pick up a copy of their new CD The Graydon Peterson Quartet.10:30 p.m. Friday, Amsterdam Bar, 6 West Sixth Street

Davu Seru performs at 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday in New Works by Jazz Composers (Zacc Harris, Steve Kenny, Chris Bates and Davu Seru) at Studio Z, 275 Fourth Street E., Suite 200

1. Donald Washington Quartet — Donald is our reminder that jazz embodies our collective spirit, and that we only get the one chance to express it. The trouble is finding the way. 8 p.m. Friday, Black Dog Café, 308 E. Prince Street

2. Courageous Endeavors — This may be one of the last times that you get to see the wonderful young bassist, Brian Courage. He’ll be moving back to his home town of NYC in August. 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Black Dog Café, 308 E. Prince Street

3. The Anthony Cox Group — Anthony Cox is the best player we have in town, and this is a pretty nice town. 7 p.m. Friday, Prince Street Stage, 308 E. Prince Street

See the entire Twin Cities Jazz Festival schedule here.